Dave’s rules for safe e-mail usage

Dave’s rules for safe e-mail usage. Please feel free to copy and paste and save this for future use. Print it out and hang copies next to your users’ monitors if you want. Make a poster out of it, I don’t care.
1. Don’t execute unexpected attachments. There’s a lot of cutesy stuff going around out there. Do you know where it came from? Do you know that the person who sent it to you scanned it for viruses? Five bucks says they didn’t. Happy99.exe is a good example–it shot off nice fireworks, then proceeded to e-mail itself to people for you and replace a critical system file. How nice of it. I don’t care how funny or how cute some attachment is, I don’t run it. Period. I don’t have time to scan it for viruses, so I can’t run it safely, and I certainly don’t have time to recover from a formatted hard drive, so I delete all unexpected attachments. Usually I make time to mail the user who sent it and tell them not to send me that crap.

2. Think twice before double-clicking on attachments, expected or unexpected. Do you know what it is? If you can’t tell a GIF or a JPEG from a Word document or an executable, you have no business double-clicking on attachments. Delete whatever it is. It’s better to miss the joke than to end up with a formatted hard drive (which you don’t have time for–see #1).

3. When in doubt, ask questions. Don’t be afraid to shoot back an e-mail message asking what an unexpected piece of mail is before opening it. You think if my editor sent off an unexpected piece of mail saying O’Reilly’s cancelled my new book, I wouldn’t ask questions? Why should an unexpected attachment from him be any different?

4. Change your stationery. On one of my work computers, where I have to use Outlook (company policy–maybe that’ll change now), I changed my stationery. In addition to my name and title and contact info, I include a line that reads, “This message should have arrived without attachments. If there are attachments, DON’T OPEN THEM!” I have to remember to delete that line manually on the rare occasions when I do send attachments. But if a virus ever hits and I do inadvertently run it, at least its cargo goes out with a warning.

5. Don’t send people executable attachments. Better yet, don’t send them unarchived Word and Excel documents either. Zip them up first. They’ll transfer faster because they’re smaller when they’re zipped, and the person on the receiving end can have better peace of mind, because viruses generally don’t send out zipped copies of themselves, and infecting a zip file is much more difficult than infecting an unarchived file.

6. Avoid using attachments whenever you can. You have network drives at work? Use them. Save it to the network, then send a message telling your coworkers where to find it. Just found a hot new shareware program? Send the world a link to it, rather than the program itself. Involving fewer computers in the file transfer speeds up the transfer and lowers risks.

7. If you must view Word, Excel, and other MS Office attachments, do so with something other than Office. View Word documents in WordPad. Yes, WordPad is slow and dumb. That’s the point. It’s too dumb to let the virus do anything. Microsoft provides Excel and PowerPoint viewers. Download them and use them to view attached e-mail. Those viewers are too dumb to let viruses do anything too.

8. Fight the machine. The more you deviate from the norm (Windows 98, Outlook and the rest of MS Office, Internet Explorer), the less susceptible you are to viruses. Why do virus writers target MS Office on Windows? Well, besides it being the second-best virus toolkit in existence, it’s also extremely common. If I’m a bored loser who wants to hear about my own exploits on the news, I’m going to aim for the largest audience possible. That happens to be Windows/Office/IE. I can’t avoid MS Word, but I’ll take my computers to the pawn shop before I use Outlook and IE exclusively.

Alternative applications and OSs aren’t just trendier, they’re safer. If StarOffice or WordPerfect Office running under Linux will let you get your work done, think about it. You may be in the minority, but you’re a lot safer.

Why Linus Torvalds is more popular than RMS

Quote of the day. This one made me laugh out loud–probably because I have a journalism degree, I’ve seen journalism professors show up for class sloshed, a good number of my friends are journalists, and, technically, I’m a journalist myself.
“I know how journalists work. They drink too much and they search for interesting stories.” –Linus Torvalds, in the Spring 1999 issue of Linux Magazine.

As for Torvalds, his mom, dad, grandfather, sister, and uncle are all journalists. Yikes!

Stallman on the warpath. My chance to be divisive, I guess. As a journalist, I mustn’t shy away from it. Hey, we’re supposed to look for these opportunities. So…

GNU/Linux is a horrible name. Stallman’s efforts should be commended, yes. I believe they have been. Stallman’s not exactly a household name yet, but certainly more people know who he is now than a year ago. If he wants GNU and his Free Software Foundation to be known, he needs to borrow more pages from Eric Raymond, or even better yet, Torvalds.

As an aside, I had a conversation with a friend and one of his friends the other night over coffee, and the whole Linux/Open Source/Free Software/whatever topic came up (probably because he introduced me as, “Dave, my friend who wrote a book about Windows and now he’s writing a book about Linux.”). I was trying to explain Stallman, and finally I just said, “He’s so libertarian he doesn’t believe in capitalism.” She stopped for a minute. “Libertarians don’t believe in capitalism?” Sure they do, usually fanatically so. But capitalism puts certain limits on your liberties, and if those liberties mean more to you than capitalism, you can start to disdain capitalism. It’s strange, but remember, in the 1930s the leaders of Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain took conservatism to such an extreme that it led to a form of socialism. The boundaries blur at the edges.

End aside. Raymond and Torvalds are better known than Stallman partly because they’re nicer and more reasonable people. Want proof? OK. Here’s an interview with Stallman, here’s one with Torvalds, and here’s one with Raymond.

It’s pretty clear from reading these interviews why Torvalds is the most popular of these guys, and why he’s become a bit of a media darling. Yes, he looks more like the anti-Gates than RMS or Raymond, but there’s more to it than just that: He’s more charismatic, he’s less intellectual (though he’s obviously a brilliant guy, he’s much more apt to laugh or crack a joke than try to convince you he knows more than you do), and he’s considerably more humble. He’s a likable guy. More likeable than Stallman or Raymond, and more likable than Gates.

Harping the GNU/Linux thing isn’t going to accomplish much. People have a hard enough time figuring out what Linux is supposed to be. And where do we draw the line? Sure, Linux isn’t very useful without some set of utilities (and the GNU utilities are the most commonly used). But what about XFree86? That didn’t come from GNU. But if it weren’t for XFree86, very few people would be interested in either GNU or Linux. And what about KDE? Stallman hates KDE because it dares to use the Qt library, which wasn’t always GPL. But it’s largely thanks to KDE that we’re not stuck using the often-convoluted interfaces that shipped with early Linux distributions. Without KDE, there probably wouldn’t have been a GNOME in response. OK, so now we’re up to GNU/Linux/XFree86/KDE. Oh yeah. A lot of the daemons people use with Linux (minor details like Sendmail and BIND–just the building blocks of the Internet, nothing to get worked up about) came not from GNU but from the BSD project. GNU/BSD/Linux/XFree86/KDE, anyone?

This becomes a convoluted mess. Maybe “Linux” isn’t the best name (if we named all OSs after the kernel, Windows 9x would still be called DOS), but it’s the name people recognize. My goal in writing is to communicate as clearly as possible. That means using the popular name.

A makeover for Stallman. I’m already in trouble, so I might as well get in a lot of trouble. We find out early in that interview that Stallman lived in is office for 13 years or something. He had a bed in his office! What, did he sleep there, wake up, code for 16 hours a day, except for breaks for meals and a break for a shower whenever he felt like it? As Torvalds says, journalists look for interesting stories. Here’s an eccentric guy. Let’s find out more about his eccentricism. Find out about the eccentricism, you learn about the dedication. It sounds like this guy just might be more dedicated and fanatic about software than Martin Luther was about Jesus. How can that be?

In fact, Stallman may have logged 16-hour days at the keyboard. He alludes to it in the interview, when he says he suffered carpal tunnel syndrome from too much coding. But he didn’t talk about it.

Stallman has this ridiculous folk song he plays about how hackers need to follow him, and they’ll be free. He alludes to folk music in the interview, how one person can take a song someone took from someone else, and it becomes a rich thing. What if Stallman brought his acoustic guitar to this interview, said, “Like this!” and played his ridiculous song, then said, “Hmm. Maybe not.” A little self-depracating humor works sometimes. Especially when you have a reputation for being pompous and arrogant. Just ask Linus.

People have to have a compelling reason to listen to you. Giving them a bunch of free stuff is a good start, I’ll admit. Though he speaks about word processors in a demeaning manner, which may make some programmers born and bred on text editors stand up and cheer, but I’m not sure I like the tool of my trade looked down upon in that way. I’m sure my mom doesn’t. The tools we need are different from the tools rms needs, and he needs to recognize that.

So, the difference between my mom and me. I have to listen to Stallman, I have to at least feign interest in who he is and what he’s doing (and to be honest, I don’t have to try all that hard) because I’m being paid to write a book that’s almost as much about him and his work as it is about Torvalds and Gates. But why should my mom give a rip about this guy? And therein lies the problem. With years of retraining, my mom could get her job done with a Linux (or better yet, Hurd, so Stallman and GNU can get all the credit) box running GNU Emacs. Hey, it’s a text editor, it’s a Web browser, it’s a programming environment, it’s a dessert topping, it’s a floor wax! And at the end of this retraining, I could then look her in the eye and say, “You’re free.” And you know what she’d tell me? She’d give me a dirty look and tell me it wasn’t worth it.

Stallman’s attitude is, “I’ll sacrifice a little (or a lot of) convenience in order to be free.” Torvalds? He freely admits his mom uses a Mac, his dad uses Windows, and his sister uses Windows. Then he corrects himself. “No, she [his sister] uses Microsoft Works. Windows is nothing more than a program loader to her. She doesn’t care how these computers work.”

I think the contrasting attitudes have a lot to do with why Torvalds feels he has too much attention and Stallman not enough. People more readily identify with Torvalds.

Macintosh buying advice

What’s up with someone asking me for Mac advice? Yeah, Dan Bowman is in the process of selling his soul to (or at least buying a computer from) some egotist in Cupertino.

From: “Bowman, Dan”
Subject: Macs
To: Dave Farquhar
Dead serious request:

We keep getting hammered by graphic artists and printers; the Mac is ubiquitous in this arena locally. I’ve proposed we purchase a Mac for the GM to use (he’s a passable artist and knows what he wants and is not afraid to do it his way).

What configuration (for that matter, what machine) should I look to price this. We’re bidding another contract and the cost of the machine would likely be saved twice over by the artist fees and the GM’s time (time he could spend just doing it).

Any bets on programs?

Networking issues?

Thanks. Not my idea of fun; but in this case the right tool for the job if he can make it work.

Dan

I can’t recommend packages, they’ve gotta be what he’s comfortable working with. Rent some time at Kinko’s if need be to determine that. I definitely suggest avoiding Adobe PageMaker, because they’re abandoning the thing. Let me take back what I just said. If you can avoid using Adobe products, do it, because the company’s policies… Umm, just take every bad thing I’ve ever said about Microsoft, multiply it by about 10, and you’ve got Adobe. You may not be able to avoid Photoshop, but avoid the rest of it if you can. Macromedia and Quark, between the two of them, make just about everything you need.

If he wants to use a jillion fonts, you need a font management program, because the self-styled King of Desktop Publishing can’t juggle more than 254 fonts, I believe. I’m not certain on the number. Extensis Suitcase will do the job.

Get AlSoft Disk Warrior, Micromat Tech Tool Pro, and Symantec Norton Utilities. Once a month (or whenever you have problems), run Apple’s Disk First Aid (comes with the system), then Disk Warrior, Tech Tool Pro, and Norton Disk Doctor, in that order. Fix all problems. They’ll find a bunch. Also get Font Agent, from Insider Software, and run it once a month. It’ll want to delete any bitmapped fonts over 12 point. Don’t do that, but let it do everything else it wants. That helps a ton.

You’ll spend $500 on utilities software, but if you want your bases covered, you need them. Get them, use them, and you won’t have problems. Neglect to get them, and there’ll be no end to your problems, unless he never uses it.

Hardware: Get a 400-MHz G4, 256 MB RAM, IDE disk (poorly threaded, cooperative multitasking OSs don’t know what to do with SCSI). Frequently you can get a better price by getting the smallest disk possible, then buying a Maxtor drive at your local reseller. I know they were charging $150 a month ago to upgrade a 10-gig disk to a 20-gig disk, and you can buy a 20-gig disk for $150. Video, sound, etc aren’t options. If 450 is the slowest you can get, get that. MacOS doesn’t do a good enough job of keeping the CPU busy to warrant the extra bucks for a higher-end CPU. You’ll want the memory because you have to assign each app’s memory usage (it’s not dynamic like Windows), and it’s not a bad idea to assign 64 MB to a killer app. I also hear that G4s are totally unstable with less than 256 megs. I can’t confirm that. We’ve got G4s with more and we’ve got G4s with less, but I haven’t seen both in the hands of a power user yet.

Networking: NT’s Services for Macintosh are worthless. Don’t use NT for a print server for a Mac (it’ll ruin the prints), and don’t use it as a file server if you can help it (it’ll crash all the time). Linux isn’t much better, but it’s better. (It’ll just crash some of the time, but at least you can restart the daemons without rebooting.) I don’t know if MacOS 9 can talk to printers through TCP/IP or if they still have to use AppleTalk. AppleTalk is an ugly, nasty, very chatty protocol–it makes ugly, nasty NetBEUI look beautiful–but it’s what you get. Turn on AppleTalk on one of your network printers and print to it that way. One Mac and one printer won’t kill a small network, though a big enough network of Macs can keep a 10-megabit network totally overwhelmed with worthless chatter. Killer DTP apps don’t like their PostScript to be reinterpreted, and that’s one of the things NT Server does to mung up the jobs. So that’s the only workaround.

Multitasking: Don’t do it. When I use a Mac like an NT box, keeping several apps and several documents open at once, it’ll crash once a day, almost guaranteed. Don’t push your luck. It’s an Amiga wannabe, not a real Amiga. (Boy, I hope I’ve got my asbestos underwear handy.)

So, who makes the best Mac utility?

When it comes to Macintoshes, I feel like a catcher playing shortstop. Yes, a good athelete can play both positions, but very few can play both exceptionally well. The mindset’s all different. The ideal physique for each is all different.
I fix Macs for the good of my team. Period. Right now my job is to nurse along a dozen Macs for four months until the new fiscal year starts, then they can replace them. I think those machines have four months left in ’em. The bigger question is, do I have four months’ tolerance left in me? Hard to say.

But thanks to my pile of Macs on their last legs (these are 120 MHz machines with no L2 cache and a pathetic 10 MB/sec SCSI-II bus, and they’ve never had regular maintenance) I’ve gotten a lot of first-hand experience with Mac utilities suites.

I said in my book that Norton Utilities for Windows is, in most regards, the second-best utilities suite out there. Problem is, the other two big ones split first place, and the third-placer is usually so bad in that regard that you’d prefer not to use it. So Norton Utilities compromises its way to the top like a politician. The Mac Norton Utilities is the same way. There are two reasons to buy Norton Utilities for the Mac: Speed Disk and Norton Disk Doctor. Period. The rest of the stuff on the CD is completely, totally worthless. Eats up memory, slows the system down, causes crashes. Copy SD and NDD to a CD-R, then run over the original with your car. They’re that bad. But of course your end-users will install them since all software is good, right? You should install everything just in case you need it someday. Famous last words, I say…

But you need Speed Disk and Norton Disk Doctor desperately. Macs are as bad as Microsoft OSs about fragmentation, and they’re far worse about trashing their directory structures. Use a Mac for a week normally, and use a PC for a week, turning it off improperly on a whim (with automatic ScanDisk runs disabled), then at the end of a week, run a disk utility on each. The Mac will have more disk errors. Apple’s Disk First Aid is nice and non-invasive, but it catches a small percentage of the problems. NDD scoops up all of the routine stuff that Disk First Aid misses.

As for Speed Disk, it works. It’s not the least bit configurable, but it has enough sense to put frequently used stuff at the front of the disk and stuff you never touch at the end.

But if you need to do what Norton Utilities says it does, you really need Tech Tool Pro. Its defragmenter is at least the equal of Speed Disk, and its disk repair tools will fix problems that cause NDD to crash. Plus it has hardware diagnostics, and it’ll cleanly and safely zap the Mac’s PRAM (its equivalent to CMOS) and cleanly rebuild the Mac’s desktop (something that should be done once a month).

But the best disk repair tool of them all is Disk Warrior. Unlike the other suites, Disk Warrior just assumes there are problems with your disk. That’s a pretty safe assumption. It goes in, scavenges the disk, rebuilds the directory structure, and asks very, very few questions. Then it rewrites the directory in optimal fashion, increasing your Mac’s disk access by about the same factor as normal defragmentation would.

Oh yes, Disk Warrior comes with a system extension that checks all data before it gets written to the drive, to reduce errors. I really don’t like that idea. Worse speed, plus there’s always something that every extension conflicts with. That idea just makes me really nervous. Then again, since I regard the Mac’s directory structure as a time bomb, maybe I should use it. But I’m torn.

Which would I buy? If I could only have one of the three, I’d take Tech Tool Pro, because it’s the most complete of the three. I’d rather have both Tech Tool and Disk Warrior at my disposal. When a Mac goes bad, you can automatically run Disk Warrior, then rebuild the desktop with Tech Tool Pro before doing anything else, and about half the time one or the other of those (or the combination of them) will fix the problem. Or they’ll fix little problems before they become big ones.

Disk Warrior is positively outstanding for what it does, but it’s a one-dimensional player. For now, it does ship with a disk optimizer, but it’s limited to optimizing one of the Mac’s two common disk formats. At $79 vs. $99 for Tech Tool Pro, if you’ve only got a hundred bucks to spend, you’re better off with Tech Tool Pro.

As for Norton Utilities, I’ve got it, and it’s nice to have a third-string disk utility just in case the other two can’t fix it. Sometimes a Mac disk problem gets so hairy that you have to run multiple disk utilities in round-robin fashion to fix it. So run Disk Warrior, then Tech Tool Pro, then Norton Disk Doctor, then Apple Disk First Aid. Lather, rinse, and repeat until all four agree there are no disk errors.

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